Making A Difference With Power To End Stroke and The American Heart Association

September 9, 2014 - 12 minutes read


The American Heart Association (AHA) has an ambitious goal between now and 2020: increase the cardiovascular health of all Americans by 20 percent. It realizes the only way to reach that goal is to make a significant impact in the multicultural communities that make up an ever-increasing segment of the population. We recently talked to Pamela Garmon Johnson, the AHA’s VP of Multicultural Markets, about her work to achieve the AHA’s 2020 goal by reaching out to those communities through multiple means.

“Multicultural markets are one of the primary markets the AHA has identified to drive the improvement of cardiovascular health for all Americans by 20percent by 2020,” says Johnson. “Reaching those marketsis significant because of the shift in demographics in our country. We cannot get to that 2020 goal unless we see improvement in ethnically diverse populations.”

Three Primary Focus Areas: Healthy Living, Training, Community Improvement


Lessening the danger of cardiovascular disease begins with a more active and nutritious lifestyle. Being more physically active, managing your blood pressure, decreasing your weight to a healthy level, not smoking, and managing your glucose—these all come into play.

“’Healthy living’ is the umbrella term, and it’s a main focus of how we reduce the number of people who have a stroke,” says Johnson. “African Americans are twice as likely to have a stroke as their Caucasian counterparts, so we have to concentrate on these factors to make an impact in the lives of African Americans and other minorities.”

For instance, cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR):Johnson states that Hispanics are 35 percent less likely to have CPR performed on them if they have an incident of cardiac arrest. African Americans are 50 percent less likely to have CPR performed. Consider the number of lives that could be saved if these communities learn CPR. It’s a huge number, so the AHA has focused its efforts on CPR training, especially in multicultural communities.


The focus areas apply to all populations but evince themselves differently in multicultural markets, so the AHA has refined its efforts to make more of an impact in underserved communities.

“We have refined our core values to achieve the lofty health impact goal we set and know that we will not get there by ourselves,” says Johnson.“It’s about having a powerful partnership and meeting people on their own ground.

“In multicultural communities, that can mean engaging and forming relationships using nontraditional channels,”she continues. “We ask ourselves: What matters to these specific communities, and where are they?”

When it comes to making a long-lasting, significant health impact within minority segments of the population, it comes down to one word: community. “Transforming the community is how we get better health outcomes,” says Johnson. “It’s a key starter because we know that poverty and education are the key predictors to health outcomes and the key to victory.

“When we think about creating an emphasis on health in underserved and multicultural communities, the question that must be asked is, how do we change the landscape? How do we have healthy corner stores and other retail locations? We also need walking trails, parks for kids to play, andcommunity gardens with better access to fruits and vegetables. Those are the things that will change the trajectories of these underserved and multicultural communities.

Johnson pauses to note that those communities are not always the same and that the AHA is reaching out to either or both types of populations. “Sometimes they’re the same and sometimes they’re not. It comes down to how we focus our efforts and meet people where they are,” she says. “We’ve identified multiple channels. One channel includes faith communities. Right now, we have mobilized six mainline denominations giving us a reach of 60million people, so even if we solely focused our efforts there, we could reach our [2020] goal.

“The second is affordable housing. ‘Projects’ are not affordable housing; instead we need new assisted living facilities where there may be a grocery store, a garden, a walking path, a food share program, and cooking classes in an industrial kitchen on-site where residents learn cooking skills that help them be prepared to feed themselves or enter the workforce as skilled labor.”

The AHA is addressing the situation through a wide range of national partnerships aimed at effecting change from the ground up. “We’ve partnered with a company called Enterprise Community Partners, for example. They have about fourmillion residents in their new green communities and are a valuable strategic partner,” says Johnson. Others include Alpha Kappa Alpha, Higi (a national health “station”provider), the University of California San Francisco, the Hispanic Medical Association,and the NHCLC (America’s largest Hispanic Christian Evangelical Association), just to name a few. “We have about 15 national partners and many local ones,” says Johnson. “Through those partnerships we identify how we can best collaborate and integrate to drive forward these positive outcomes. My team is tasked with implementing those strategies on a local basis.” To do so, the AHA has about 50 multicultural directors across the country focused on doing just that for their specific communities.


AHA Multicultural Ambassadors

The AHA’s ambassador program is the cornerstone of Johnson’s work. AHA ambassadors are a diverse group of key opinion leaders across the countrywho have made a commitment to make an impact in priority health areas. They utilize the AHA’s resources to reach out to their communities through presentations, getting people to sign up for advocacy outreach, and generally mobilizing the community. “Their job is literally to help those around them get healthy,” says Johnson. “They are the motivators who urge others in their community to plant a garden together, start a walking club, and participate inevents like the AHA’s Heart Walk. We have more than 40,000 ambassadors who have conducted over 100,000 activities throughout the country. They have generated more than half a million dollars for the AHA, and because of them we have seen a major increase in people’s awareness concerning stroke, a healthy diet, and going to see their doctors.”

Research has shown that going to the doctor can be challenging for those in underserved and/or multicultural communities. “Take the Hispanic community, for example. Many times the entire family goes to a doctor’s appointment, and if the older generation doesn’t speak English, it’s a younger member of the family doing the translating,” says Johnson. “But the medical terms are so confusing that a child or grandchild translating them can be overwhelmed.

“So, many people in those communities wait until they feel completely horrible before going to the doctor.We work on the prevention side to get them to the doctor sooner so they may be able to manage a disease through lifestyle changes. We don’t want individuals using the emergency room as their primary care physicians, and that’s what happens much of the time.”

Working With Birk.Creative

Our work with the AHA began with the creation of an infographic. A well-designed infographic can both disseminate information and be the starting point of an effective overall branding effort.“The infographic Birk.Creative designed for us outlines all of our priorities and is a great way to tell our story,” says Johnson. “It’s almost like an elevator speech because you can quickly pull out goals, focal areas, and projected outcomes.”

We are also in the midst of publishing a series of three eBooks withJohnsonand the AHA, with the first already available on ITunes: How To Prevent High Blood Pressure. “That’s how people get their information these days,” says Johnson. “When we get through all of our planning, we’re going to build execution around those tools and get people to utilize them, especially the eBooks.”

Communicating through prioritized channels is key to the AHA’s multicultural efforts. Its goal is to reach around fivemillion individuals by 2017 from a multicultural market perspective, enabling them with information that will lead to better living and healthy behaviors.

Birk.Creative is proud to be assisting the AHA in reaching that goal. “I am really excited about all of this, and JinJa Birkenbeuel [CEO of Birk.Creative] has done a really great job for us,” says Johnson. “I’ve known her for quite a while, and she’s both persistent and thoughtful.”

YOU Can Make A Difference

You can assist the AHA in reaching its lofty goals, too. Check out its website, like it on Facebook, follow it on Twitter, sign up for informative emails and then put your own time and energy on the line by participating inits efforts and events, as well as becoming an ambassador to your community.